Healthy or health hazard – is unpasteurised milk getting a raw deal?

One of Britain’s worst food poisoning outbreaks has once again thrust the issue of drinking raw milk into the spotlight. While the sale of unpasteurised milk for human consumption in Australia is illegal, there are plenty of people campaigning for the law to be changed.


Healthy or health hazard – is unpasteurised milk getting a raw deal?

Back in the day, anyone who grew up on the farm would have known the taste of pure, fresh milk straight from the cow. But Australian health authorities say the risk of drinking raw milk is too great to allow it to be sold for consumption.

What is raw milk? It’s milk that hasn’t been pasteurised – which is a heating process used to kill bacteria. Those who consume raw milk say it’s better for you, because it hasn’t had all of its goodness removed during the pasteurisation process. However the CSIRO maintains there is no evidence that pasteurisation impacts the health benefits of milk.

65 people fall ill after drinking raw milk

The laws in the UK differ from those in Australia, allowing for some countries to sell raw, unpasteurised milk for drinking. According to The Sun over the past couple of months 65 people have become sick after drinking raw milk from one farm.

Those who fell ill reportedly included a one-year-old and an 86-year-old, however none needed hospital treatment.

In Australia, the death of a Victorian toddler in 2014 was linked to him being given unpasteurised milk to drink – which was sold as ‘bath milk’ and labelled ‘not for human consumption’.

The death prompted even stricter controls in Victoria, which included manufacturers of raw bath or cosmetic milk having to add a ‘bittering agent’ to their products so they’re unpalatable.

Raw milk advocates

Victorian mum-of-three Sallie Jones believes the government needs to rethink its position on raw milk in Australia. “I think there’s a place for raw milk, if there’s some legislation in place and it can be done very, very safely. People have been drinking raw milk from the dark ages,” Ms Jones told The Healthy Mummy.

“I think any food in its purest form is the best for our bodies. Food is medicine and there’s so much over processing in food these days. I think that can be related to a lot of these illnesses and sicknesses we catch, we aren’t as robust as what we used to be.”

Sallie Jones

Ms Jones, who is the co-founder of dairy company Gippsland Jersey (which does not sell unpasteurised products), says she’s happily allowed her children to enjoy raw milk.

“My kids have had raw milk and there’s been absolutely no side effects – it’s safe.”

However, she says like any food we give to our children, we need be absolutely sure of the source. “It’s very important for me to know the farmer and have the relationship with the person that’s producing that milk. For me, when I’ve given my kids raw milk in the past I have a very good relationship with that farmer. I even get involved and watch what’s going on.”

Organisations like the Australian Raw Milk Movement continue to lobby for a lifting of current bans, saying, “Regulating the sale of low risk raw milk will provide an effective avenue for small-scale farmers to access markets and sell their products directly to consumers.” 

Raw milk risks

Food Standards Australia New Zealand says that the risks from drinking raw milk are too great to consider allowing the sale of unpasteurised milk for drinking.

According to Better Health, it doesn’t matter how carefully raw milk has been produced, it could be unsafe and increase the risk of gastrointestinal illnesses. Those who are most at risk from the bacteria are pregnant women and young children.

So while the debate continues, the ban on selling raw milk for human consumption in Australia remains.

Want to know which almond milk is best for coffee – take a look at this!

written by:

Anita Butterworth

Anita is a journo from country Victoria who swapped the cut and thrust of television news for the joys of raising boys. When not writing about everything parenting, she's searching for the perfect cuppa and Instagram filter.